Two decades after seeming to have won the Cold War, NATO must now tackle crucial questions about its very future. Faced with a resurgent Russia, instability in Georgia and similar potential problems in Ukraine, the alliance is split over what to do next.
The warning signs were there last spring, when NATO met in Bucharest. The then-Russian President Vladimir Putin made it quite clear Moscow would not stand idly by while the alliance wooed new members on his country’s borders. The courting of Georgia and Ukraine in particular was a line not to be crossed.
NATO has always espoused the idea of “one for all and all for one;” an attack on any of its members would see the others riding to the rescue. New eastern European members want a tough line on Russia’s actions in Georgia. But that could have embroiled NATO in a war not of its choosing.
Moscow has skilfully played on those doubts. The chairman of Russia’s Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, said:“We cannot understand how this membership of NATO can provide better opportunities for combating international terrorism, for combating the proliferation of nuclear weapons, for facing all other challenges and threats, which we have as common challenges and threats.”
NATO presented a united front when asked if Russia went too far in South Ossetia. But divisions have appeared over what to actually do about it. And even more so over NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine.
Western countries seem more concerned about their dependency on Russian energy than they are about being attacked. But eastern European NATO members fear the rise of Russian nationalism, and want Georgia and Ukraine on board quickly.
“Ukraine seems determined,” said Masha Lipman, from the Moscow Carnegie Centre. “However, I think developments in Georgia could make the Ukrainian leadership and the people in Ukraine question whether it is actually worth it? Now Russia has the potential to destabilise Ukraine, this would be a horrible development for Europe.”
Germany has promised Georgia that NATO membership remains on the table. But others, including France, are hesitant, wary of provoking an already-angry Russia bent on re-establishing its credentials as a world power.